Splendor is one of the best and most popular new Eurogames released in the last two years, a highly accessible game whose elegant rules mask layers of complexity in ways to play and win (or lose). It was a natural for an adaptation as an app for tablets, but the designers ofSplendor did something particularly sharp: They partnered with Days of Wonder, whose in-house adaptations of Ticket to Ride and Small World are among the best of breed, to bring Splendor to tablets. The results are everything you’d hope they would be.
If you haven’t played Splendor, the game is easy to learn between the app’s tutorial and the clear, bright graphics that make game actions simple to follow. Players compete to buy cards from the central 3×4 market, first using the five colors of tokens as currency, then using purchased cards to substitute for or supplement those tokens to allow the purchase of more expensive cards. Some cards are worth victory points, and reaching specific combinations of purchased cards (three each of three specific colors, or four each of two specific colors) before any other player does can earn three-point bonuses as well. You can find more details on the gameplay itself in my review of Splendor from 2014.
The app allows for pass-and-play, networked play, and solo vs AI modes, as well as a series of solitaire “challenges” that didn’t grab me the way the game itself does. There are three AI opponents, distinguished by strategy rather than difficulty. The Specialized player tries to focus on two or maybe three colors, based on what’s initially on the board. The Opportunistic player is a bastard who likes to take the card s/he thinks you’re trying to buy. Yes, there’s more to it than that, but trust me—this is the part you will notice. The Balanced player plays it straight down the middle, focusing on building across colors, hoarding tokens early to try to grab higher-valued cards later. You can also choose a player with a “random” strategy or choose the secret strategy if you don’t want to know what AI you’re facing. I found that I could beat any of the AI players in the majority of games, but not every time thanks to the randomness of card draws. (My kingdom for a black card!)
During the game, the app shows you your current assets, both cards and tokens, in a panel at the bottom of the screen that has two numbers for each color, a larger one showing how many cards in that color you own and a smaller one showing your tokens. When your turn comes up, any card you can purchase is highlighted with a green boundary. If you’ve added tokens or bought a card during your turn, any cards you’d be able to purchase on your next turn (because you now have more purchasing power) are highlighted in blue. You can see any opposing player’s assets by tapping on that player’s avatar.
The app scores your victories according to a strange formula that weights how you win, by how much, and how quickly you do it. There are various achievements, most of which are fairly simple, although I haven’t figured out how to beat any AI player in 20 turns or fewer yet.
The pre-release version of the app was slightly glitchy, with a handful of unexplained crashes to the home screen and a few in-game freezes, although the app must constantly save the game-state as only once did such a bug cost me a game in progress. Otherwise, I’ve played over three dozen games already and found no problems—and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Maybe when I figure out how to win in 20 turns or fewer I’ll have had enough; in the meantime, this is in the inner circle of app versions of Eurogames, with Carcassonne, Samurai, Agricola, and Days of Wonder’s own two titles.
Splendor is published by Days of Wonder. It is available for iOS and Android.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.